A phrase I often heard from high school and college writing teachers was: “Remember your audience.” When writing a story, an article, an essay, an advertisement, or anything else, a writer needs to think about who their intended audience is. It affects word choice, tone, content, and many other aspects of the work. As readers, we should use a similar phrase: “Remember the audience.”
I’ve written before about the many adults who read Young Adult (YA) fiction. Many also occasionally read and enjoy Middle Grade (MG) fiction. I am no exception. As often as possible, I try to write reviews of the books I read on Goodreads, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how often I judge a book only with my adult experience and understanding. There’s nothing and no one stopping me from reading books for a younger audience. In fact, I suspect the publishers are happy to have the expanded readership. But I need to be careful that my impressions don’t stop the intended audience from reading their own books simply because they don’t appeal to an adult’s understanding.
I’ve seen Twitter threads where a YA author shares a one- or two-star review of their own book where the reader basically states: “This book was OK, but it felt like it was written for teenagers.” These adult readers fail to realize that teenagers are exactly who the book was written for. I’ve seen a similar problem with kids’ show reviews on the IMDb. Parents will talk about how stupid a show is, not considering that the intended audience is preschool-aged children whose interests and experiences are much more basic than theirs, or even their older children’s. I try to see these shows through my children’s eyes, no matter how much the shows annoy me. If there’s nothing that will teach my kids bad habits, I will judge it by their response, not mine.
I know that it’s not always easy to tell what a book’s intended audience is. The publisher, seller, or even the author themself, don’t always make it clear. After all, they don’t want to alienate potential customers. A good way to determine the audience for yourself is by looking at the age of the main character. Publishing professionals say that most young readers want to read about characters who are older than they are. If the main character is 12 or 13, the book is Middle Grade. 17 or 18? It’s Young Adult. Sometimes you will see a character who falls between these ages, which puts the book in the early YA category. College-aged main characters place the book in the elusive New Adult (NA) category—a category distinction abandoned by mainstream publishers but still alive and well in indie publishing.
Being as prudish as I am, I doubt I’ve written any reviews accusing YA authors or trying to appeal to a teenage audience. Still, I look at these books through an adult lens. Recently, I made a commitment to myself to consider who the book is intended for when reading and reviewing. If I see problems, would they still be problematic if I were reading the book with a younger mind? If the answer is yes, I can mention it in my review. If the answer is no, I just need to remind myself: Remember the audience.